Food: a Utopian Studies Special Issue

Idealized food practices have changed, I explain in the introduction to a 2015 special issue (26.1) of the journal Utopian Studies. Since Eating in Eden: Food and American Utopias appeared, utopian foodways have turned to production that is better for sustaining the earth.  In addition, food ideals are conveyed now through social media, a possibility that was in its infancy when Eating in Eden went to press. My introduction provides an overview to the collection, with specifics about the thirteen essays and book reviews within it.  Co-edited with Timothy Miller and Lyman Tower Sargent, who are also contributors, the special issue examines utopian food practices that give attention to consumption and clean up as well as social exchange and spirituality.

Eliza Leslie: Fun & Food

My most recent book, Selections from Eliza Leslie , collects stories, recipes and other works by the nineteenth-century cookbook author and humor writer from Philadelphia. In addition to providing a biographical sketch, my introduction to the volume describes Eliza Leslie’s early career and her prominence among American women writers at her death in 1858.

Leslie established her career through writing fiction for children and collecting recipes. Soon after, she launched herself into humorous magazine fiction with the award-winning “Mrs. Washington Potts.” This tale of what-not-to-do-when-entertaining appeared in Godey’s Lady’s Book (1832), the most popular women’s magazine of the era. Leslie rose to an editorial position with Godey’s as her career progressed.

Equally important as the selections and introduction, the book provides the first bibliographical overview of Leslie’s voluminous writings. Approximately 30-pages, arranged both chronologically and alphabetically, provide titles of Leslie’s publications that appeared between 1803 and 1853.

Bodies of Life: Shaker Literature and Literacies

In Bodies of Life: Shaker Literature and Literacies, I examine the roles of reading and writing in the celibate, religious communities known popularly as Shaker villages.  Questions driving the project emerge from the widely held belief that understanding and reasoning through texts (especially the Bible) under gird the best faith practices and true religion.  But the Shaker’s female founder, Mother Ann Lee, was deemed illiterate. She drew followers in Revolutionary America as she preached from Bible verses learned through hearing them. And she added to these what she gained through mystical visions and experiences.

Persecuted for distinguishing practices, such as female leadership, the Shakers grew in number nonetheless. They also prospered financially as the years passed.  Reading and writing in Shaker communities changed through the years as well. Bodies of Life traces the complex relationships among literacy and faith, reason and emotion, personal experiences and family ties.  Zooming in on individuals who came to and left the Shakers, the book makes communal life personal.  This approach makes it relevant to those today who are on spiritual quests and seeking communities.